So, There I was......* Flight Commander at Kadena, flying F-15s, dodging Typhoons, F-5s and communists. In general, having a good time. Being a Flight Commander didn't involve any real "command" things. I didn't have any UCMJ authority, and issuing an Order to one of my flight members would almost undoubtedly have reduced them to tears from laughing so hard. Based on that, my leadership style was based on example, I would work hard to be the best I could at my job and treat my people with the respect they deserved. In general, it worked pretty well. I did get the occasional call from the Squadron Commander inviting Lt Schmuckatelli and myself to his office for a "chat". Usually followed by a second private "chat" between the Boss and myself. Fortunately, both Squadron Commanders during my time at Kadena followed the same leadership style that I was trying to emulate.
I get the call one afternoon to stop by the Bosses office. He invites me in and says he's got some good news, bad news. I'm getting a new member to my flight, a Captain in his first tour in an F-15. Now, this usually meant one of a few things. He could be a fairly senior Captain who's had a couple of tours in an older fighter, then performed a "pay your dues" tour (say an AT-38 to Holloman) and finally got an Eagle. He could be a First Assignment Instructor Pilot (FAIP) from ATC and got an Eagle out of there, or he could be a WSO who'd been selected for Pilot training. Most WSOs I knew were fairly proficient at flying the jet and would have had no problem graduating near the top of the class, which was a requirement for getting an Eagle or Falcon.
The good news is I'm not getting a Lt. I've already got 3 and while they are gaining proficiency and judgement at an astonishing rate, I've still got to keep close watch on them. We had a D model come on the schedule when one of them was scheduled for Duty Officer. He came and asked me if he could take it out for an advanced handling ride. The hairs on my neck started standing up. Then came the Kicker, he asked if one of his Lt buddies could ride along. Now this Lt was not in my flight, but he was positive that he was the Sierra Hotel-ist of all the Sierra Hotel Fighter Pilots in the squadron, and he wanted to show my Lt a couple of tricks he knew about Advanced Handling.
The hair on my neck is standing straight up. I told them, Yes, they could take the sortie and fly together. That started a bit of wink wink, nudge nudge going on between them. I then told them they were not to exit the Radar Pattern and that I expected them to have completed their semiannual instrument approach requirements by the time they landed. "Mannnnnn!" Little bit later, I get a call from the Boss asking why I had done that. I responded "Sir, I didn't want the last words on the tape to be "Let me show you how to do THIS!". He responded "Good Call."
Anyhow, as Sarge is wont to say, I digress. So, I'm not getting a Lt. Good. "Wonder what the Bad News is?" The Boss hands me his flight records. He wasn't a WSO or FAIP but he was coming out of a "Pay your Dues" tour. He'd done 3 years flying a T-33 as a target for the Air Defense guys.
"Oooh Boy!" Target flying involves a lot of straight and level and not much else. Not a good workup to flying Air to Air in an Eagle. To compound that, he's come out of the short qualification course since technically he was an experienced pilot. Getting him up to speed will be challenging.
A couple of days later, I pick him and his wife up at Naha. "Good Afternoon, I'm Juvat." He says, "Hi Juvat, I'm Bones." Now lots of guys come to a squadron with a tactical callsign that they had at a previous location, or that they would like to be called, but very few of those call signs survive first contact with a raucous squadron. So, I'll humor him until his Eagle Baptism.
Very nice guy. Personality wise, he's going to fit in. No sweat. But that's not what it takes to make it in a fighter squadron.
I get him settled in and on the schedule with an IP to regain landing currency. They go out do a little advanced handling to get down to landing weight, then come back in the pattern for some instruments and touch and goes. Afterwards I asked the IP how it went. No sweat, instruments were like glass, landings were fine. All well and good, but that also is not what it takes to make it in a fighter squadron.
I decide that he is going to be "my" wingman and for better or worse, he's going to be the guy entrusted to keeping my butt out of trouble if the fecal matter starts flying. I get him scheduled with me the next day for a BFM ride. The ride goes pretty well. He makes the usual new guy mistakes, but flies the jet pretty well. We go up again the next day and I can see that he has learned some from the previous ride. Improvement is always good. The third ride, we've got a little added bonus, we're going to hit the tanker. He'd gotten two tanker hits during RTU, one Day, one Night. I asked him how those went and he hemmed and hawed a little. OK. We talk about refueling a bit more, but tanking in the Eagle is Easy!
|Contact Position. (I know for a fact that I have flown the closest jet on the left)|
Ok, maybe not so much. He gets stable in the pre-contact position and moves it forward into the contact position and is floundering all around. The boomer sticks him and promptly pulls out as Bones slides out the front of the box. (Potentially very dangerous if the boomer doesn't disconnect in time, the boom is not able to retract further and can be driven into one or both aircraft. That's bad). Bones moves back into the Pre-contact and tries again. Basically the same thing. He doesn't have the picture for flying formation with the larger tanker. Try a third time, no dice. There are other flights on the tankers wing, so we clear off and head out to the area. BFM is good, not great. Debrief is long and lots of time spent drawing pictures of what a KC-135 looks like in the various refueling positions.
I go and talk to the Boss about it and what my plan to get him through this is. Basically, I'm going to get him on a tanker every chance I can get. On scheduled tanker sorties, and on drive by's. The tanker track was right next to the airspace and you could usually talk your way to a dry hook up or maybe even a couple of hundred pounds if they weren't actively refueling others. The Boss approves.
We do this for a couple of months. I get him across a tanker 3-4 times a week. (This was the Reagan Build up years, we flew a lot!) and he's settling in ok, but never to the point that I can relax while he's on the boom. and the first night tank was, shall we say, interesting.
We've got a wing wide exercise scheduled, "Defend the Island against all comers".
The Aggressors are in town. They're playing Mig-21s.
|F-5s as Mig-21s (small, turn on a dime, hard to see)|
|RF-4C as Mig 23 (fast as greased lightning, can't turn for squat)|
and the SR-71 is playing a Mig-25 (They called it a low slow flight for some reason).
|SR-71 as Mig-25 (high fast flyer)|
The three Eagle squadrons are rotating to protect Kadena from the bad guys. I'm leading Bones in a two ship protecting the tanker track and we know the fight is going to start soon, since we can see with the radar the bad guys taking off. The Tanks are about 100 miles behind me, and I'm getting to the point that I need to refuel now, or I'm going to be way to low on gas when the bad guys push. I call the tank and ask him to turn towards us to shorten the time to rendezvous. He does, I stroke the burners and put Bones into a loose fighting wing position.
|Obviously, NOT F-15s in Fighting Wing, but this is approximately the formation|
Source: U. S. Air Force File Photo
The formation allows him to use maneuver and cut off instead of throttle to stay in formation. He's got a bit less gas than I so, my plan is for Bones to refuel first. A gamble, since if Bones can't get his gas expeditiously, we've got two Eagles out of the fight, instead of one. Well above the Mach, I'm starting my conversion turn and tell the Tanker to begin his retrograde. I'm pulling slightly less than 9Gs in the turn and Bones is hanging in formation.
|Loaded for Bear with war shots|
I rollout with Bones in the contact position and the Boomer sticks him. He's like glass. Takes his gas, disconnects, I pull into position and the Tanker starts turning hot. Smart guy. He's not going to out run them, better to have two shooters between him and them. I've got my gas as he completes the 180 and disconnect. The Tank immediately starts the retrograde again as I light the burners and accelerate out from underneath. The ensuing fight was epic. Never did see the SR-71 (he was in a later stage of the battle after we'd recovered.) Get back to the ramp and into the debrief. I asked Bones how it went. He said, during the conversion turn the G's were such that his vision was limited to a small circle with my navigation light in it. He stayed with that, until he felt a thunk as the boomer stuck him. He finished with "after staying in position during that turn, staying in position on the tanker was a piece of cake."
Bones will feature prominently in several more posts. Suffice it to say, he developed into a fine Fighter Pilot, an excellent wingman and an even better Flight Lead. And, unlike most guys, actually kept his call sign. (Which, may or may not really have been "Bones")
*The story is true, details are as valid as my memory and therefore qualifies as a War Story.